Universalism and the Wills of God


#1

Some theists believe in the concept of multiple wills of God. This concept has been applied against an argument for Universalism. Thus, it deserves attention here. John Piper has written about the subject here. But I think Piper does not delve deeply enough into the original words, and thus his analysis is incomplete.

The Greek word for wills in the Matthew verses cited by Piper to support his case is thelema. That word has very different meanings. In addition to “will,” it can mean “determine,” in which case, if God determines it, it will happen. There is nothing humans can do to alter God’s determining a thing to happen. But it can also mean “command.” Consequently, if it means “command,” what is commanded by God may not happen, for humans can and do freely choose to ignore commandments. So, here we have different interpretations, even opposing ones, depending on which definition is used: a determination is not a commandment. That complication can lead to ambiguity in interpreting what a verse actually means and makes one wonder why such ambiguous words were used in the first place when other words with more specific and non-overlapping definitions were available.

In Piper’s work, for every verse that uses thelema, one can substitute for thelema either determine or command as a stem word, depending on context, and the verse makes perfect sense. For example, in Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven,” thelema relies on the stem word determine. But in 1 Peter 4:2, “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God,” it relies on the stem word command.

So, when thelema is used in a verse, context determines which definition is implied. Clearly, the context of Matthew 7:21, Matthew 12:50, and 1 John 2:17, verses Piper uses to make his case, reveals that the sense of the word thelema is akin to command, and as such, of course there will be some not following the thelema of God. Unfortunately, sometimes context may not help, and one then may not know exactly what the writer intended.

The word thelema is not the same word used in some other key mentions of God’s will or desire, and these others do not include among their definitions “command.” For example, in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord . . . is not willing that any should perish, but [wills instead] that all should come to repentance,” the word for willing is boulomai, and its definitions listed in Strong’s Lexicon at the Blue Letter Bible site are “to will deliberately, have a purpose, be minded” or “of willing as an affection, to desire.” The same applies to other Greek words translated as will or desire. For example, the word Greek word for desire in 1 Timothy 2:4 “[God] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” is thelo, and it does not refer to a commandment or anything else that may be defied by recipients.

Proof of that can be shown by noting thelo for desire in both 1 Timothy 2:4 and Isaiah 55:11. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is clear from Isaiah 55:11 that God accomplishes what He desires, where desire is expressed in Greek by thelo. “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” The word thelo for desire, when used in describing God, is a determination, not a commandment.

Thus, to make sense of all of this, one must go back to the original language used in a verse.

Clearly, Piper’s distinction does not apply to verses that use boulomai and other similar words, in which the word for will or desire in no way implies command. There are no multiple wills of God indicated when these base words are used. So when 2 Peter 3:9 says Lord wills (boulomai) that all should come to repentance, that will does not imply a commandment that shall or can be defied. It means all will come to repentance. And as I just showed above, the same applies to thelo.

There are some interesting repercussions here. I have used a syllogism in support of Universalism, a syllogism that comes directly from the ideas of Thomas Talbott.

Premise 1: God desires (thelo) all be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4: “[God] who desires (thelo) all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”)

Premise 2: **God accomplishes all He desires (thelo). **(Isaiah 55:11: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire (thelo), And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”)

Conclusion: All will be saved.

Calvinists attack this syllogism using logic from Piper’s contention that there are two wills of God, and His will or desire that all be saved is not a determination but a commandment that can be defied. But if there are not actually two wills implied by the syllogism, which uses the word thelo, the conclusion of the syllogism stands because, as I said, that word denotes “determination,” but not “commandment” as seen from its definitions, unlike one of the main words Piper focuses on, thelema.


#2

I enjoyed that lancia. Universal salvation definitely seems to be an inescapable conclusion given the two premises “God accomplishes his will” and “God wills the salvation of all”. Do some people actually think God has more than one will? Isn’t that impossible? How could a being will two mutually exclusive things?


#3

Yes, some people believe the Bible establishes that God has at least two wills, a sovereign, decretive, or hidden will, which is the one that is a determination, and a revealed or preceptive will, which is the one that is a commandment. Anything targeted by the former will is always executed because it is God’s determination. But anything targeted by the latter will is not always executed because it can be defied by the free will of humans who often disobey commandments.

I guess the underlying assumption is the two wills are not expressed at the same time for the same subject.

This notion of the multiple wills of God comes from the use of original-language words like thelema to indicate the will or desire of God. As I discussed above, that word has several definitions, some conflicting, and that can lead to ambiguity, especially when context does not clarify which definition should be used. Luckily, the syllogism above does not rely upon thelema but instead upon thelo, which does not have conflicting definitions. It means determination, so if God wills or desires it, it will happen.


#4

I think that if God exists he must be perfectly unified in everything he does; he can’t have any internal conflicts. For him to not be sounds like some kind of dualism. Bipolarity on a cosmic scale.


#5

Yes, it is a strange notion–this notion of multiple wills of God. Maybe it comes strictly from translation problems. But I also wonder how much of the impetus for this notion comes from Calvinist disagreement with the syllogism discussed above. Calvinists, and to a lesser extent Arminians, seem horrified at the thought that God has both the power and the will to save all.


#6

You seem to have a problem (or maybe an issue) with the ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’ view… Maybe you should look for an alternative view. You are very smart. Very smart. Look for what the scripture says and not what denominations say religion means…

Good luck.


#7

I do look for an alternative view: Universalism. That’s why I’m here.

And I do indeed try to look at what scripture says and not what denominations say religion means. That’s what the OP is all about–namely what the original language says about this issue of multiple wills of God.

Perhaps I seem a little sensitive to what Calvinists say, and if so, it is likely because they, more than any other group, have often used the multiple-will defense to argue against the syllogism I posted above. That’s been my experience at another religious site, Reasonablefaith.org, over the last 9 years and 5086 posts there.


#8

In one sense I think you are wasting your time trying to make this argument from <θέλημά> thelēma BECAUSE the definition IS reasonably broad and as such IS determined best by context. But more than that… your biggest problem, as I see it, is that you are arguing the likes of 1Tim 2:4 ACCORDING TO his assumptions with regards to “election” — you are simply arguing the other side of the same coin. I say you both have the wrong coin.

Particularism limits “salvation” whereas Universalism says all are elect to it. The trouble is BOTH positions assume “election = going to heaven” i.e., who’s in and/or who’s out. Your basic equation is wrong and so the countering arguments wrong-headed because biblical ELECTION was NEVER about position after life, BUT about purpose in life, i.e., SERVICE — big difference!

Both Particularism and Universalism are correct BUT for the wrong reasons… yes election IS limited and yes ALL have been reconciled to God. Biblical election is about those called to minister ON BEHALF OF the rest. IOW… through the elect the blessing of God was to flow to all.

Take Gideon… under God’s guidance he whittled down those called to fight to 300 men — these ELECT men wrought deliverance by the hand of God ON BEHALF OF their brethren, i.e., all Israel. Those NOT elected were NOT duly cast aside, condemned nor shunned, NO… THEY were simply not chosen for the purpose of serving in that particular redemptive event.

Take the Priesthood… under God’s guidance only certain one were called and ELECT for the purpose of serving as priests — and what do priests do — they minister ON BEHALF OF the rest of the people. Israel as a nation was ELECT of God to minister His blessings to the wider world…

Israel was “the firstfruits” and the rest of the word “His harvest.

Israel failed at their mandate (Mt 21:43) but this was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus and His firstfruit saints, again, ON BEHALF OF the rest etc — that’s the NT story. This above is the pantelist’ understanding of that. While Calvinists’ and Arminians’ argue on the platform at the station of religianity the train of humanity is whooshing by.


#9

But I said as much in the above. I said, “The Greek word for wills in the Matthew verses cited by Piper to support his case is thelema. That word has very different meanings. In addition to “will,” it can mean “determine,” in which case, if God determines it, it will happen. There is nothing humans can do to alter God’s determining a thing to happen. But it can also mean “command.” Consequently, if it means “command,” what is commanded by God may not happen, for humans can and do freely choose to ignore commandments. So, here we have different interpretations, even opposing ones, depending on which definition is used: a determination is not a commandment.” And I said, “In Piper’s work, for every verse that uses thelema, one can substitute for thelema either determine or command as a stem word, depending on context, and the verse makes perfect sense.”

So, I am indeed saying that the word thelema has broad and even conflicting definitions, and I also said context can help identify the intended meaning. So, I am puzzled by this part of your comment.

I am addressing 1 Timothy 2:4 according to a plain reading of the language used, specifically the word thelo. The language addresses being saved, i.e., 1 Timothy 2:4: “[God] who desires (thelo) all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Isaiah 55:11 uses the same word thelo (in the Septuagint) to show that God always accomplishes what He desires (thelo), which importantly clarifies that God’s desire, when based on the word thelo, is equivalent to a determination. Thus, the word thelo clearly mean “desire,” as a “determination,” with no indication that it means more broadly anything resembling “commandment,” unlike the case with thelema.

I have no idea how to address your point about election and how what he (i.e., Paul?) says in 1 Timothy 2:4 reflects his assumptions regarding election.

Again the crux of the OP is that using thelema to argue that God has multiple wills and so the syllogism that concludes all are saved is invalid is itself an invalid argument. That is so because the verses used to build the premises of the syllogism are not based on the word thelema, which has broad definitions that include both a determination and a commandment, but instead are based on the word thelo, which has a narrower definition that includes only a determination.


#10

Hmm?? It is actually possible for a determination to have the strength of a commandment so as to be expressing one’s will.
A Judge for example can make a determination, ruling… “I hereby sentence you to life in imprisonment for the crime of…” — thus what he wills has the authority of a command that cannot be broken.

Again it can be a little broad… θέλω,v 1) to will, have in mind, intend 1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose 1b) to desire, to wish 1c) to love 1c1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing 1d) to take delight in, have pleasure.

There is a fair degree of determination beyond the mere wish or desire in these above. I do agree however that God’s will is singular — it may be expressed variously, but it is singular.


#11

But that definition of the word determine is not the definition I referred to in this thread. The definition I referred to is clear from context as described in this thread as “to bring about as a result” (Merriam-Webster). The definition you used above for determine is “to decide by judicial sentence” (Merriam-Webster).

That the definition I used above is “to bring about as a result” is patently obvious from the cited verse Isaiah 55:11, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire (thelo), And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it,” which shows God always accomplishes what He desires (thelo). That wording importantly clarifies that God’s desire, when based on the word thelo, is equivalent to something He determines by bringing it about.

If the word determine (or the noun form determination derived from it) is unacceptable to you, then simply substitute “to bring about as a result” as the intended definition of desire in the above posts by me to understand what I meant.


#12

Yep all good… possibly we’ve been talking in circles (maybe my fault) as I went straight to your linked article and the very first sentence thereof makes mention of the “elect” etc.

Contrary to both Calvinism or Arminianism I view… “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” as speaking of the soon coming deliverance (salvation) which was to be realised to those having “come to a knowledge of the truth” i.e., this is NOT talking about salvation to heaven postmortem BUT salvation in life antemortem. Calvinism, Arminianism, Universalism or Annihilationism all assume the former… pantelism assumes the latter.